Johnnie’s Pageant

Peter Leith is 90 and describes himself as ‘half-deaf and half-blind’, but he is living life to the max. In Johnnie’s Pageant, he offers a glimpse into a Christmas tradition and reveals the volunteers’ favourite task.

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Every year, John Martin, the Adelaide department store, would stage a Christmas pageant. (Ed: The tradition continues as the Adelaide Christmas Pageant.)

The whole city got involved. For weeks beforehand, floats were built and decorated. Bands rehearsed and mums laboured over costumes for the multitude of marching girl teams.

Volunteers from local amateur theatre groups helped with the make-up. Volunteers offered to apply the tanning cream for the adult marching girls – it was a popular ‘happy-to-lend-a-hand’ activity for theatrically motivated young men such as me. Sometimes it led to more intimate and even, permanent, relationships.

Fifty or more groups and floats would assemble at the Police Barracks Square on King William Street North. Once started, the pageant would move along North Terrace, East Terrace, Rundle Street and down King William Street to Victoria Square where it ‘dis-integrated’.

The floats and marching groups presented a cross-section of Adelaide and, indeed, South Australia. Bands from country towns and suburban ‘cities’ marched with floats from the Country Women’s Association.

The Salvos Band marched behind the girl guides and boy scouts, the Emergency Fire Service followed a group of cadets from one of the ‘posh’ colleges and so it went.

My experience was 67 years ago and it’s wonderful to know that Johnnie’s Christmas Pageant continues to this day.

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Written by Peter Leith

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